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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A lot of times, when we ask what God is doing, or has done, or should do, we’re really asking, What kind of God do we have? When Jesus’ disciples see Him praying, they say, “Teach us to pray like John taught his disciples.” And Jesus does give them words. He says, “When you pray, say this: …” But unless they know the God to whom they pray—unless they know the God to whom Jesus is praying—they will not be able to pray even the words from Jesus with full confidence.
Jesus describes two different kinds of Gods in this first part of Luke 11. The first kind of god is a lot like us. It’s the sort of god where you have to find the right key to fit into the right lock to open the door, and then this god will give you the things for which you’re asking. If you say the right things, do the right things, ask in the right way, then this god will answer you. It’s the sort of god where you have to seek out where he/she/it is so that you can find it. You have to knock with the right combination of knocks in order to get this god to open up the door.
It’s like if you have a friend. In the middle of the night, someone comes to your house after traveling all day; he’s tired and hungry, and you don’t have anything to give him. So you go to your friend’s house—in the middle of the night—and you knock on the door, and you call out to him, and you tell him you need some bread to give this traveler who’s come to you. But your friend doesn’t want to get out of bed. He says that it’s just going to be a lot of trouble; he has his kids in bed with him, and he doesn’t want to disturb them by getting up. He won’t get up because he’s your friend, but because of your impudence, your disregard for all the laws of social interaction—because he’s annoyed, and maybe because he wants you to just go away, he’ll get up and give you what you need. Or it’s like if you’re a father, and your son asks you for a fish—you’re not going to give him a snake, are you? If he asks you for an egg, you’re not going to give him a scorpion, are you? If you, then, who are evil…
I suspect that’s what most people think God is like, anyway. They think He’s distant and impassive, and you have to sort of rouse Him with your prayers; you have to say the right things to get Him to listen; you have to talk to him at the right time, and he doesn’t really want to deal with you—He’s got better things to do than listen to your petty prayers—and so you kind of have to get Him out of bed to pay attention—especially in the middle of the night. You have to speak the words that will make God act; perhaps you have to bargain with Him by telling Him what you would do for Him, like when you need something from your friend, and you tell him what you’ll do for him if he helps you out.
But the God of Jesus is not like that friend. The Father of Jesus, to whom He prays, is not like us who are evil. And we know that not all earthly fathers will give good gifts to their children. Some do give the equivalent of a snake instead of a fish, and a scorpion instead of an egg. The Father of Jesus isn’t like that. The key is in the contrast, not in the description. If you, who are evil, know to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him. How much more! You don’t have to bargain with the true God to get Him to give you what you want. That’s how we misread Abraham’s discussion with God in Genesis 18. We think that Abraham is bargaining with God to show mercy. He’s a little afraid to ask God to spare the city, especially so many times. God’s probably like a friend or a father who gets tired of being asked the same question over and over. But that’s not how it is at all. God is always ready to show mercy. Of course, Abraham, I’ll show mercy if there are even ten righteous in the city. In this case, for the sake of Abraham, God spares Lot, who isn’t all that righteous; He spares the few out of the many.
And when Jesus comes—how much more!—God spares the many for the sake of the one. At just the right time, God sends His Son into the destruction and chaos that we have brought on ourselves; at the fulfillment of His own perfect time, He sent forth His Son to be born of a woman, to be born under the Law, in order to redeem—buy back—you and me, who are under the Law. Enslaved to sin under the Law; enslaved to our own fearful conceptions of what God must be like, where we have to bargain and beg and connive to get God to do what He otherwise would not do. But Jesus, in His own body, shows us what kind of God we have. When you are joined to the Son in Holy Baptism, then you become sons of God. And if you are sons, then, Paul assures you, the Father has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”
Now, finally, we hear from Jesus what kind of God we have, and when Jesus gives us words to pray, we know what it means to say, “Father in heaven.” Even if our earthly fathers have failed us, or sinned against us, sometimes grievously, our heavenly Father is not like that. The Son makes us sons, and the Spirit causes us to cry out, Father! Our God is not like the friend who’s in bed at midnight; our God never slumbers or sleeps. He not only gives us better gifts than our earthly fathers give, but in Christ, we trample down snakes and scorpions and all the power of the Evil One. We pray for the things we need from day to day, and what does Jesus say? All the nations seek after those things. Everyone is looking for food and clothing; they may even be calling out to a god to give it to them. But your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Seek first His Kingdom, and all the rest will be added to you.
And how much more! When we, who are impatient, angry, doubtful, uncertain, we tend to hold back our prayers. Perhaps we think we shouldn’t speak to our Father in heaven when do not feel as if we are perfectly pious and ready, when our hearts aren’t in a perfectly right place. But do we think that our Father will give us serpents and scorpions, evil and death? You have been made children of the heavenly Father, baptized into the Name of Jesus Himself. When you pray, pray freely and boldly, because your Father knows what is good for you. Perhaps we could turn the image of Jesus around: if you ask your Father for serpents and scorpions, will He not give you eggs and fish? Will He not give you your daily bread, as He always has? Will He not give you the Holy Spirit so that you persevere in faith and in the word of Jesus? Will He not give you Christ’s very body and blood? If you are angry, tell God. If you are doubting, tell God. Who else can help you? If God is truly God, He already knows your heart anyway. He’s not going to be surprised or shocked. Cry out to Him, like Jesus did. Spill your anger and doubt and frustration; pray even if you pray for the wrong thing; Jesus’ spilled blood covers you, and your Father will give you what is good.
Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure, His joyous will, to give you the Kingdom. When you pray, “Let Your Kingdom come,” the Father is already there, giving you Jesus, who reigns over the Kingdom of God. If you have Jesus, the Son, then you have everything that is the Father’s. He is right here, giving to all who ask, being found by all who seek, the doors of the Kingdom flung wide where heaven meets earth in Christ Himself. Jesus is the door, and you enter through His flesh, in which you were crucified and resurrected with Him. It is all in Him, who sustains you with His own Body and Blood. You are with the Son who was led into temptation and overcame the serpent, who suffered and died, but whom His Father answered and delivered in resurrection. For His sake, the Father will never lead you into temptation, and He will deliver you from the Evil One, even if He has to raise you from the dead. “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7).
The most important thing we can learn from Jesus when He prays is not where He goes to pray or when He prays. It’s not the setting or the surrounding or the circumstances. It is the certainty of the righteous and holy Son, who prays to His Father without a doubt, because He knows what kind of God His Father is. The Son knows that no matter what happens, no matter what He suffers, no matter even when He dies, that the Father will always do what He says. So when the Son, who was crucified and resurrected, gives us words to pray, we can know that no matter what happens, no matter what we suffer, no matter the circumstances, in Him we have the certainty that God will always do what He says. He is our dear Father and we are His dear children. We have heard His words from the mouth of the Son in flesh, and the Father will always hear and will never forsake His sons, to whom He has given the Spirit. Not now, and not ever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/23/22